Friday, January 18, 2019

Quantitative risk for the new guy on the street

Repetition and review are good--Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to be expert at anything--so here's a few words that will take a few minutes on three important quantitative concepts every risk manager should know:

Concept 1: Centrality
Most phenomenon of interest to projects, particularly naturally occurring phenomenon, tend to cluster around a central value, given enough samples or examples. Obviously, this let's out the so-called long-tail 'black swans', but project managers can go a long way if they understand that central clustering is the norm ... in effect, the default.

The measures are average and expected value. The former is applicable when the data is known; the latter when the data is probabilistic and the numerical value is not known until an event occurs. In calculating the average, each value is equally weighted; in calculating the expected value, each value is weighted by its probability.

Concept 2: Variation
Yes, things cluster, but that simply means that around the central value there is a range within which things are nearby the center, but not exactly on the center.

It's more likely things are close to the center than not: that's an effect of centrality on variation

The measures of variation are variance and standard deviation.  Variance is a figure-of-merit related to the distance, or error, between a point in the range and the central value. Standard deviation is a more direct measurement of distance, having the same dimensions as the points in the range.  Engineers refer to the standard deviation as the root-mean-square, or RMS value.

Concept 3: Position
Sometimes it's enough to know just the position of a data value in the range.  Names associated with position are quartile and percentile, and the so-called 'Z' position. 

Z is just a value in the 'standard range' divided by the standard deviation.  [A 'standard range' has a '0' average] For project management purposes, the 'Z-position' extends +/- 3 units from the average or expected value for most situations.

Dividing a range into 4 quartiles requires defining 3 boundary points: Q1, Q2, and Q3.  Quartile is all about count, not value per se.  Just rank all the values in the range in ascending order.  Divide the count into quarters.  Q1, Q2, and Q3 are the count values that divide the range.

If a value is in the first quartile, that means that 75% of all the values in the range are greater than the Q1 value, and by extension 75% of all the values are greater than any value in the first quartile.

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Agile strong -- a reveiw

Trying to remember how you got here?
Understanding why you're sticking around is also important

So, here's my top ten reasons why agile has worked for me

1. Agile is a "best value" method: it's doctrine is centered on value and accomplishment for the customer and user, not so much adherence to cost and schedule--though the sponsor's investment can not be exceeded, so cost is at least capped

2. Agile respects the urgency and importance of priorities conveyed by the customer/user, most prominently by incremental delivery and flexible sequencing

3. Agile respects the power of emergence and iteration to drive innovation, provided the customer buys-in

4. Agile puts the customer in the driver's seat for the value agenda of the project.  By doing so, the project is more "Juran" than "Deming" in its quality orientation.
Thus the PM's mission: deliver the most value for the invested resources, taking reasonable risks to do so

5. Agile is more bottom-up than top-down as a matter of doctrine.  There's a bit of the "wisdom of the crowds" in the way that small teams are given opportunity to find solutions, and there's a bit of small unit tactics--as practiced by the largest command and control organization of them all....the U.S. military--that put a lot of minute to minute decision making with the bottom of the WBS.

6. Agile has the potential to more effectively align business planning-and-execute cycles with project cycles.  Business cycles are often scheduled well in advance and are often calendar driven [it's July, so let's kick-off the annual planning process for the next FY].

7. Consistent performance by small teams of participants that work together continuously is highly valued. Such consistency means that PMs can depend on throughput benchmarks that are statistically meaningful.

8. Agile respects the objective behind earned value: Say up front what you are going to do, and then do it.  No partial credit.  Either it works or it doesn't. 

9. Agile respects the common sense that all requirements can not be known at the outset, particularly when the outcomes are intangible and subject to an evolving understanding.

10. Agile gets the benefit stream flowing sooner, so the time displacement between need and delivery is manageable at lower risk.

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bigger pie, or more slices?

Leadership v Followership
I've been revisiting Michael Porter this week here at "Musings".
I was struck by Porter's description of leadership v followership in technology:

About that pie:
  • Leadership increases the size of the "pie", but 
  • Followership only reslices the pie.
  • Followers accept "zero-sum"; 
  • Leaders change the sum.

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

F.W. Taylor: should we care?

How many project managers are still laboring with the aftermath of Fredrick Winslow Taylor, more popularly known as F.W. Taylor?

Taylor Who?
You might ask: Who was Taylor?
Good question
F.W. Taylor was one of the first to study business systematically -- an original "operations research" guy. He brought 'Taylorism" into the business culture in the years leading up to World War I. By 1915, his ideas were considered quite advanced.

But, here's news you can use: much of what he divined is still around and affecting projects! Read on ....

Taylorism, so called
Taylor set about to invent "scientific management", a revolutionary movement that proposed the reduction of waste through the careful study of work.

Taylor came up with the original 'time-and-motion' studies, perhaps one of the first attacks on non-value work.

Peter Drucker, a management guru par excellence who coined the term 'knowledge worker', has ranked Taylor, along with Darwin and Freud, as one of the seminal thinkers of modern times. ["Frederick Taylor, Early Century Management Consultant", The Wall Street Journal Bookshelf, June 13, 1997 pg. A1].

Ooops, what about Agile?
The essence of Taylorism is an antithesis to agile principles but nonetheless instructive.

Counter to what we know today, Taylor believed that workers are not capable of understanding the underlying principles and science of their work; they need to be instructed step-by-step what to do and how to do it; and nothing is left to chance or decision. Rigid enforcement is required.

Managers have a role
However off-base that idea, Taylor was close to the mark with his doctrine about value-adding work. According to Taylor, managers must accept that they have responsibilities to design efficient and effective process and procedures.

Waste must be eliminated!
Every action requires definition and a means to measure results.

OMG! Not a popular guy
Taylor was not well like by workers and it's not hard to see why. But Taylor's ideas and practises brought great efficiencies and profitability while providing customers with products of predictability of quality.

Do it once, right
I like what Steve McConnell says about quality and the software relationship. Building off Taylor's ideas of 'do it once right', though he does not mention Mr. Taylor, McConnell, author of the respected book "Code Complete" states the " general principle of software quality is .. that improving quality reduces development costs .... the best way to improve productivity is to reduce the time reworking..."

Beck gets it right
Kent Beck, writing in his book "Extreme Programming Explained - Second Edition" has a pretty strong idea about the legacy of Taylorism and its lingering effects on the knowledge industry.

He says of Taylor that he brought a social structure we continue to unconsciously apply, and warns against the message that Taylorism implies: workers are interchangeable; workers only work hard enough to not be noticed; quality is an external responsibility

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Agile C.R.A.C.K. customers

Dr. Barry Boehm, a noted software methodologist with a long and illustrative career at TRW, DARPA, and USC, and author of the COCOMO model and Spiral methodology, writes about the ideal customer for agile projects.

Boehm's perspective:

-- Collaborative: they will engage with their customer peers and with the development team
-- Representative: they know the product or system requirements and can represent their constituents accurately
-- Authorized: they can make the decisions needed to keep velocity up, and their decisions stick!
-- Committed: they take their job seriously and make every effort to advance project success
-- Knowledgeable: they can understand what the developers are telling them in the context of the business or market situation.

More from Boehm on Agile:
Take a look at other Boehm'isms about agile in his book, with Richard Turner, "Balancing Agility and Discipline: a guide for the perplexed", published by Addison-Wesley in 2004

Buy them at any online book retailer!

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Dangling participle

Still, as Hanson Baldwin summed up the Italian campaign, “All roads led to Rome, but Rome led nowhere.
Hanson Baldwin, Historian
describing the WW II campaign in Italy, 1943 - 44

Accomplishment without purpose -- a dangling achievement
And, the lesson for project managers is:
Beware the strategic objective that isn't actually strategic at all.
  • It looks strategic at the moment
  • It's called strategic
  • Perhaps just a tactical diversion?
  • We go "there", but the dots don't connect; or, can't be connected; or there's nowhere to go from here
AKA: "The bridge to nowhere"; a dead end; wild goose chase? Down a rabbit hole? A floating apex? Perhaps ... some may be just tactics that didn't work; the real issue at hand is strategy that doesn't connect well to business objectives

Value adding?
And so, even if it dangles, could achievement have larger strategic value in some way, shape or form?

Yes, and no.
Which is the fate of -- and means to recognize -- such dangles: arguments in favor and and arguments against; seemingly forever on both sides of the issue; each with proponents, unconvinced and unconvincing. (The campaign in Italy is still argued to this day .... why did we do it? **)

What if?
History can not be rewound and replayed; there are too many unseeable connectors and influencers that might come into play in the alternative narrative. But, the broad strokes of "what if" might be instructive, and so why not play it through?
  • We achieve the objective
  • Now what?

Dangling participle? An actionable activity without an identified actionee

** Churchill's strategic vision was to defeat Germany from the east, through the Balkans, holding back the Russians from overrunning eastern Europe, and yet driving through East Germany to Berlin. The Italian campaign was a necessary entry into the Balkans, according to Sir Winston
Roosevelt's strategic vision was to drive through France for a quicker and more economical victory than slogging through the Balkans and challenging the Russians in the bargain.

In the competition of these two competing visions, Rome -- captured the day before D-Day in France -- became an objective achieved, but unconnected to the grand strategy (Roosevelt won the argument)

Buy them at any online book retailer!